SORDID LIVES

R
Reviews

Closeted homosexual Ty (Kirk Geiger) returns warily to his small Texas hometown to attend the funeral of his Grandma Peggy, who died after tripping over the wooden leg of her two-timing lover G.W. (Beau Bridges). G.W.'s wife Noleta (Delta Burke) is understandably miffed, and receives consolation from Peggy's daughters, earthy LaVonda (Ann Walker), Sissy (Beth Grant) and snippy, repressed Latrelle (Bonnie Bedelia), Ty's mother, who hasn't a clue about her son's sexuality. Another gay member of the family, "Brother Boy" Earl (Leslie Jordan) has spent years in an institution, suffering the attempts of a nymphomaniacal psychiatrist, Dr. Bolinger (Rosemary Alexander), to "de-gay" him. The shrink definitely has her work cut out for her, as all Earl wants to do is dress up like Tammy Wynette and entertain the other patients.

First-time director Del Shores based this film on the play he wrote, which had a successful Los Angeles run. Shot in digital, a format which works nicely here, it's a wacky, colorful trailer-trash farce with a raft of over-the-top, yet appealing, characters. Shores definitely knows his terrain and, despite the script's loony outrageousness, his film nevertheless has an authentic regional feel and real humor. He maintains admirable, farcical control over his rambling plot and big cast, which features some memorably funny performances. The standout is Bedelia, in a very difficult part. She doesn't get any of the laugh lines or personal eccentricities of the other performers, yet she carves out a memorable portrait of a frenziedly conflicted woman, who, as it happens, is the one truly believable character in the film. Jordan is a panic as the fiercely individual Earl; the character could have easily slid into tired caricature, but, such is Jordan's batty empathy with the part and innate dignity, he manages to be both moving and hilarious. His final speech of defiance is theatrical in the extreme, yet he carries it off triumphantly. (And, for the record, he really does quite become his beloved Tammy.)

Alexander starts out wonderfully as the most mordantly unsympathetic psychiatrist imaginable, but then Shores has her go too far, ripping off her blouse to seduce a very repulsed Earl. Bridges brings his easy affability and down-to-earth heft as the no-account G.W. Burke obviously revels in appearing with her hair in rollers, chowing down on a greasy buffet, and is very funny recounting her married travails with a mouthful of food. Geiger underplays, touchingly. Grant is as down-home as you can get and very winning as the most sympathetic sister, who would like nothing more than to just have herself a smoke, but can't, as she's supposedly kicked the habit. Olivia Newton-John pops up in a musical cameo as a most unexpected lesbian lover of that very busy, if deceased, Grandma Peggy.

--David Noh